Thousands of years ago, Newtown Creek was a pristine 1,200-acre salt marsh. A diverse slate of species, from beavers to oysters to American eel, called it home. With European colonialism came the enclosure of New York’s natural environment. In less than a century, Newtown Creek was transformed from a vast tidal swamp to a channeled waterway. Following the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the exploitation of the creek only accelerated. Between the mid-1800s and the late 1900s, it served an array of highly polluting uses: oil refining, copper smelting, chemical production, and more.
Today, like in pre-industrial times, a rich diversity of activities populates Newtown Creek. But the scars of industrial pollution remain, and the creek is still a dumping ground for more than one kind of human waste. The overarching questions for our studio were: Might the creek’s natural systems not only coexist with but enhance its industrial life? Are there models for land ownership that offer a genuine alternative to extractive capitalism? Could Dutch Kills play host to both economic enterprise and green space? In other words, can an all-encompassing ecosystem arise around Newtown Creek?
Through a lens of environmental justice, our studio, created during the Fall 2021 semester, offers proposals for jobs pathways, site design and land management that reflect the values and outlooks of the Newtown Creek Alliance. Our jobs proposal focuses on community empowerment within the neighborhood’s transformation into a green industrial economy, while the site design proposal aims to create green space in an area increasingly threatened by climate change. The land acquisition and management strategies focus on community control, looking to the land’s original inhabitants and their values of stewardship. Our “propaganda” campaign ties all of the proposals together, promoting a vision for a regenerative and inclusive Newtown Creek.
Newtown Creek Alliance
Lily Baum Pollans